What is the purpose of suffering? If God is a good God, why do bad things happen to good people? For an honest man, these are fair and common questions. I've been reading through the book of Job recently (part of a chronological Bible reading plan for the new year), and was struck by Elihu's (one of Job's friends) response to Job's suffering and subsequent questioning of God's justice in it all. Elihu is realistic about the pain, brokenness and suffering that is present in all of our lives. Yet, he offers us a hopeful response as to why a sovereign God allows such brokenness and pain. Please read:
"Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones,
so that his life loathes bread, and his appetite the choicest food.
His flesh is so wasted away that is cannot be seen, and his bones that were not seen stick out.
His soul draws near the pit, and his life to those who bring death.
If there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand, to declare to man what is right for him,
and he is merciful to him, and says,
'Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom;
let his flesh become flesh with youth; let him return to the days of his youthful vigor'
then man prays to God, and he accepts him; he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
He sings before men and says:
'I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not repaid to me.
He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon light.'"
A couple things stick out to me as I read this.
- First, God allows brokenness, pain, and suffering to happen, even to those pursuing Him, because it allows us to experience his salvation. As this passage points out, we can't experience redemption from the pit, unless we ourselves are in the pit. We can't experience the joy of a ransom, unless we are first held captive. In other words, we can not rightly taste and experience the salvation of the Lord, unless we first know, understand, and experience the plight of sin in the world. Healing is sweet when we know we are broken.
- Second, God allows brokenness, pain, and suffering to happen because it serves as a testimony to the Lord. Notice in this passage, the man who is restored and ransomed from the pit "sings before men and says.....He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit."God's redemptive grace amidst our brokenness and pain serves to glorify God and point to his Sovereign goodness.
- Lastly, reading this passage, it is clear that all of these things are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the one who redeemed our lives when we were in the pit. He is our ransom. He is the merciful one. Let us turn to, and accept this God.